On the Brink: The Future of Kashmir in the Wake of the Indian Government Lockdown

On August 5th, 2019, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi deployed thousands of Indian troops into the region of Jammu and Kashmir after New Delhi stripped the territory of its special status under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, which had granted Kashmir a high degree of political autonomy. The move is the latest in a relationship that has been characterized by frequent friction among New Delhi, Islamabad, and the region of Kashmir. The Indian Parliament is expected to pass a law that would split Kashmir into two regions governed by New Delhi, a Hindu-majority region and a Muslim-majority region that also includes a segment of the Kashmiri Buddhist population. Kashmir has been marred by sporadic violence stemming from religious extremism, and Modi’s government has cited the need for greater economic integration with the rest of India as a pretext for revoking the region’s special status. Many Indian nationalists have voiced their support for Modi’s move, which they see as the party fulfilling an electoral campaign promise to integrate the region into India proper. However, the lockdown has been condemned by both opposition politicians in the Indian Parliament as well as Pakistan, which responded to the incident by downgrading relations with New Delhi. Kashmir is still partially occupied by Indian troops, and the government has only recently began to restore telecommunication lines and electrical power to the region over the weekend. 


Current situation in Kashmir:

Before the imposition of martial law in the region, thousands of tourists from both India and foreign countries were told to evacuate the area due to a terrorist threat. Indian authorities then imposed curfew times and also closed schools in the region. On Monday, a number of schools reopened, but many parents have decided to have their children remain at home due to unstable conditions. In addition, there have been significant demonstrations against India’s recent actions by local inhabitants. Police attacked protesters with tear gas in a number of demonstrations. The Indian government has denied that the protests occurred. Critics of the move have accused New Delhi of using the Kashmir issue to distract the populace from ongoing economic stagnation at home. Meanwhile, Hindu nationalists hailed the move as a positive step in advancing Indian territorial sovereignty. In Pakistan, Prime Minister Imran Khan has denounced New Delhi for violating Kashmiri sovereignty and Islamabad has filed a case with the International Court of Justice (ICJ). With regard to the rest of the international community, a British Member of Parliament (MP) joined protests outside the Indian High Commission in London.9 Concerned states have warned that New Delhi’s decision could potentially push the region into further turmoil and perhaps even the point of no return.

The situation in Kashmir has stabilized to a degree following the military intervention. However, there are still signs of violence and unrest in the region. On Wednesday, an Indian security officer was killed in a gunfight with a suspected militant. This marks the first time that Indian state media has acknowledged deaths following the military occupation in early August. The region is still under tight security, with the police enforcing curfews for residents, which has put a strain into personal relationships for many young Kashmiris. In addition, the region is still without mobile network and internet access. Although Modi has declared that the integration of Jammu and Kashmir into India proper will ultimately bring greater development, peace, and prosperity, the current state of affairs and the considerable social unrest that New Delhi’s actions have produced suggests a more ominous future for the region. Kashmir’s current state can be considered a negative peace at best, with a heavy state security presence in the region and bouts of sporadic violence.  

Although some services such as landline phones have been restored, a strict curfew is still in place, which has resulted in more women going outside to perform daily tasks such as grocery shopping after curfew is lifted because men are more likely to be arrested by the police and military should they be seen. In the past few days, Indian state media has also reported an easing of restrictions in the region as a number of police stations relaxed restrictions and 2G mobile internet service has been restored to five districts.14 In addition, Indian authorities stated that services to certain “sensitive” regions of Kashmir will be restored in a “calibrated” manner. Currently, there have been no significant demonstration or further unrest, and the Indian state has taken measures to restore a degree of normalcy in the state following the abrupt move in early August to split Kashmir into 2 regions. 


A Foggy Future:

New Delhi’s decision to  essentially scrap the provisions in Article 370 regarding the status of Kashmir is a significant blow to both the political autonomy of the north Indian state as well as the delicate geopolitical balance between the central government, Kashmir, and India’s neighbor Pakistan, which also has claims in the Kashmir region. Indeed, Pakistan’s decision to bring the issue to the International Court of Justice could result in a significant loss of international political capital for Modi’s government should the court rule in favor of the Kashmiris. In addition, the flurry of social unrest following the integration of the region does not necessarily bode well for long-term stability. New Delhi’s actions could serve to potentially reinvigorate the pervasive ethno-political tensions that have fueled the decades-long conflict. 

Another concern that Modi’s decision on Kashmir could produce is the transformation of the region’s relatively open form of Islam into a much more radical version should the Indian authorities move to impose restrictions on the Muslim-majority state.16 This could in turn exacerbate and perhaps intensify the separatist insurgency movements in the region. These concerns could ultimately prove to be inconsequential, as there have been instances in which separatists have been able to be reconciled and even serve in the federal government.17 Nevertheless, this move could ultimately deal significant damage the long-term relations between New Delhi and its only Muslim-majority state. If the lockdown incites additional insurgent and separatist activity in the future, Modi’s decision may not be conducive to Indian domestic stability. 

Perhaps more concerning, the Indian government’s actions towards Kashmir may serve to set a dangerous precedent that could ultimately jeopardize Indian democracy. The Kashmir incident showed that it is possible for the federal government to dissolve local government and impose its will on a region. In addition, the relative silence of local authorities and media outlets on the situation is a worrying indicator of the ability of the press to freely and independently report on the situation. The move is also damaging to the delicate federalist system and could serve to erode local state power in the long-term. In defense of the federal government’s actions, supporters of the move on Kashmir cite geopolitical concerns. As a Muslim-majority region constantly facing unrest and in close proximity to Pakistan, it was necessary in the eyes of supporters for the federal government to exercise more direct control to hedge against potential foreign influence and the spillover of religious extremism. Nevertheless, Modi’s decision is a drastic departure from previous Indian administrations, which had pursued rather centrist approaches to deal with Kashmir by relying on political intermediaries drawn from the Kashmiri political elite. In addition, past Indian administrations have emphasized the secular nature of the Indian state by including Kashmir as a part of greater India while granting the region a considerable amount of autonomy. New Delhi’s actions could have significant long-term political consequences for the country.

While Modi’s decision to revoke Kashmir’s special status fulfilled a campaign promise and bolstered his image among Hindu nationalists, New Delhi’s decision may serve to be counterproductive down the road. By abruptly reversing previous administrations’ policy towards the region, Modi has created both short term and long-term issues. In the aftermath of the revocation, sporadic unrest continues in spite of a heavy security presence. With regard to long-term issues, New Delhi’s decision to further integrate Kashmir could give additional fuel to the pervasive separatist movements in the region. Ironically, a move that was made ostensibly to guard against the growth of religious extremism, potential foreign influence, and separatist movements could ultimately serve to further strengthen the movement in the region.

More importantly, the case of Kashmir could serve to erode the integrity of the Indian democratic system and jeopardize the political future of the world’s most populous democracy.  

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